A heat exchanger is a device built for efficient heat transfer from one medium to another, whether the media are separated by a solid wall so that they never mix, or the media are in direct contact. They are widely used in space heating, refrigeration, air conditioning, power plants, chemical plants, petrochemical plants, petroleum refineries, and natural gas processing. One common example of a heat exchanger is the radiator in a car, in which a hot engine-cooling fluid, like antifreeze, transfers heat to air flowing through the radiator.
Heat exchangers may be classified according to their flow arrangement. In parallel-flow heat exchangers, the two fluids enter the exchanger at the same end, and travel in parallel to one another to the other side. In counter-flow heat exchangers the fluids enter the exchanger from opposite ends. The counter current design is most efficient, in that it can transfer the most heat. In a cross-flow heat exchanger, the fluids travel roughly perpendicular to one another through the exchanger.
For efficiency, heat exchangers are designed to maximize the surface area of the wall between the two fluids, while minimizing resistance to fluid flow through the exchanger. The exchanger’s performance can also be affected by the addition of fins or corrugations in one or both directions, which increase surface area and may channel fluid flow or induce turbulence.
The driving temperature across the heat transfer surface varies with position, but an appropriate mean temperature can be defined. In most simple systems this is the log mean temperature difference (LMTD). Sometimes direct knowledge of the LMTD is not available and the NTU method is used.
Heat exchangers are widely used in industry both for cooling and heating large scale industrial processes. The type and size of heat exchanger used can be tailored to suit a process depending on the type of fluid, its phase, temperature, density, viscosity, pressures, chemical composition and various other thermodynamic properties.
In many industrial processes there is waste of energy or a heat stream that is being exhausted, heat exchangers can be used to recover this heat and put it to use by heating a different stream in the process. This practice saves a lot of money in industry as the heat supplied to other streams from the heat exchangers would otherwise come from an external source which is more expensive and more harmful to the environment.
Heat exchangers are used in many industries, some of which include:
- Waste water treatment
- Refrigeration systems
- Wine-brewery industry
- Petroleum industry
In the waste water treatment industry, heat exchangers play a vital role in maintaining optimal temperatures within anaerobic digesters so as to promote the growth of microbes which remove pollutants from the waste water. The common types of heat exchangers used in this application are the double pipe heat exchanger as well as the plate and frame heat exchanger.